Part IV: Not Without Being Thrown in Jail
Monday, July 24, 2000
After making it through customs, we quickly made our way down the Karakoram Highway and into Gilgit where we stopped for a few hours to sleep in a peaceful hotel during the night. In the morning, we were up to get the bus to Rawalpindi. Walter took the early bus, and Lakpa and I waited until noon.
By the following morning, we had rolled into Rawalpindi in the damp dawn, arriving at 6am. We were bone tired after our twisty, all-night ride in yet another lopsided old Chinese Yutang (liberation) bus. Not thinking of much, we boarded a taxi, with our now four bags, and headed for the hotel.
Halfway inside the door of the hotel, I was jerked awake to see a black bereted, gray shirted policeman beating the taxi driver about the head and pushing him back into the car. The policeman shouted at us to reload our luggage and get back in the car.
Then the policeman got inside with us, and we reversed out onto the street, and the car wildly swerved to the side of the road, into a sort of vacant lot. There, two other cabs pulled up, and the policeman and another cab driver rifled our bags violently. I saw my socks and sleeping bag and mattress sail into the mud. My books, and ski poles, and trekking shoes were dumped into a puddle. My hand-carry bag had four pair of hands shuffling round inside, occasionally one man or the other holding stray objects up to the light: a notebook, a camera, a bottle.
The policeman said we were going to the police station for questioning, and we were not allowed to speak. We set off again, this time in two cabs, and it was a long drive. There was no conversation, I was in a state of shock. We had done nothing wrong, and Lakpa was quaking in his boots. I started to become angry and began to check out this policeman. He had no gun and no badge, just that black beret and gray, woolen shirt, with tiny insignia on his epaulets, saying "police," in small silver letters.
As the drive grew longer, and I felt we were heading back to the bus station, I began to wonder to myself if he was a policeman. Before we got too far, I decided it was time to check it out. I reached forward from the back seat, leaned into the front seat, and latched onto the steering wheel. I pulled the steering wheel mightily, and the car swerved, just missing a bus, and came to rest with a great bump against a fruit kiosk by the side of the road.
The policeman, now fantastically enraged, jumped from the car and pulled me from the car shouting. I shouted at him and asked to see his badge, and where was his gun, anyway?
He said he left his gun at the station, and that he would show it to me when we got there. Finally, some passersby intervened and said he was a policeman, and that the station was indeed just around the corner, and that I should go with him.
We all piled back inside the car, and I was satisfied, at least that we were not being kidnapped (although resigned to be jailed for life after my outburst).
We completed our journey and arrived at the police station. Lakpa and I were marched inside, and our captor woke his boss, who was asleep in his underwear on a rope bed.
We were asked a few questions, then we were marched outside and made to stand in the mist, while a heated debate went on in the station. Finally, the boss came outside, this time wearing most of a uniform, and asked us what the problem was. We explained we had been trying to go to our hotel. Another heated debate ensued, then everyone came outside, and there was an embarrassing silence.
Finally, our taxi driver, the one who had been getting beaten up from the beginning, intervened and apologized for me and my disrespectful attitude toward the police. I also apologized, and the policeman apologized, saying there had been a mistake, based on an anonymous tip, and we eventually told a few stories from our lives: he from his three years as a student in Saudi Arabia, and I from our trip to Mustagh Ata.
We shook hands with a grudging respect, and we even exchanged business cards. The taxi driver took Lakpa and I back to the same hotel, and we ran into Walter and said good morning, telling incredulously what had just happened. Then, Lakpa and I went to the first travel agent we could find and booked seats on the first jet out of town back to Kathmandu.
I guess Rawalpindi just wasn't in the cards for us that day, and we opted for the easy flight across the border rather than the long, slow, bus-train trip through India. Crossing borders, constant scene changes, all these can be exhilarating thrills for the senses, but there is only so much a person can take, you know?
Sometimes, there is nothing more rewarding than a nice, boring flight. Besides, we got to see Everest poking its head up through the clouds on the way into Nepal that day.
Dan Mazur, MountainZone.com Correspondent